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Cigar-shaped and equipped with elongate, tooth-studded jaws, barracudas are some of the most striking bony fish of the ocean. While some species are considered potentially dangerous to humans, these high-level marine predators are far more likely to snatch a small fish than pursue a scuba diver or snorkeler. From six-foot Guinean barracudas to the comparatively diminutive yellowstripe barracuda--usually under a foot in length--these fish vary in size and distribution but all share the torpedo and big-eyed form. Read on for more barracuda facts and information below that will shed some new light on this magnificent fish.
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There are several dozen species of barracuda, found mainly in tropical and subtropical waters but with a few types, like the Pacific and European barracudas, ranging into temperate zones. They are defined by their slender and elongate build, epitomized in the long, sharp head and jaws--a form dedicated to predatory efficiency, and one which they share with freshwater hunters like pike, muskellunge and gar. Their most intimidating feature are rows of ragged teeth: The great barracuda sports two sets--a line of tiny ones along the outer edge of the jaw and then much larger, conical-shaped daggers for snatching prey.
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While the image of a lone, reef-cruising barracuda may be archetypal, the young of most species school, sometimes in large numbers--and adults, too, often gather together. The bigeye barracuda of the Indo-Pacific, for example, ranges in large aggregations during the day. Like numerous kinds of predators, terrestrial or aquatic, barracuda tend to conduct most of their hunting under cover of night. There are exceptions, however. The great barracuda, for one, is mainly a diurnal predator. The hunting style is one of slow and watchful cruising, then sudden bursts of impressive speed--exceeding 30 miles per hour in some cases. Such a method is called “ram feeding" and is also seen in certain types of the barracuda’s freshwater analogues, like pickerel and garfish. Prey mainly consists of other fish--including smaller barracudas--though squid, octopus, shrimp and other marine organisms are sometimes taken.
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Like many fish, tropical and subtropical barracuda often mature in the shelter of mangrove roots. Mangroves, water-loving and salt-tolerant trees, form extensive forests along seacoasts, island fringes and keys, and their lattice of supports in the shallows are highly productive nurseries for baby fish and other marine creatures. Also important, depending on the region, are seagrass beds--extensive flats of seagrasses in relatively shallow water. These sheltered habitats help protect the young from predators like sharks, groupers, seabirds and other barracudas. Great barracuda in the Florida Keys spawn offshore, as noted by the Florida Museum of Natural History. The fertilized, free-floating eggs develop into larvae that take shelter in estuaries. Once grown to a little over an inch, the young barracuda will migrate into nursery mosaics of mangrove and seagrass until they achieve full size.
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Largest of the family is the great barracuda, a solitary predator of tropical coastal waters from Australia to the Caribbean. Reaching lengths better than six feet, and sometimes weighing more than 100 pounds, the great barracuda has a reputation for being dangerous to humans. However, a little known barracuda fact is that actual attacks are rare and often blamed on the fish mistaking a flash of hand for a small prey creature. It does, nonetheless, often shadow divers--perhaps out of simple curiosity. An archetypal predator of coral reefs, these fish also cruise seagrass flats, mangrove jungles and even open waters. In addition to its intimidating size, appearance and hunting strategy, the great barracuda may accumulate ciguatoxins in its flesh that might induce poisoning in humans if the creature is consumed.
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(1) Florida Museum of Natural History: Biological Profiles - Great Barracuda
(2) FishBase.org: Bigeye Barracuda